Monday, June 05, 2006

Save Our Orchard Road Trees

I know my blog’s been moribund for a while now, but I just read an article in The Sunday Times that shocked me out of my stupor.

It’s about the Orchard Road trees.

Ignatius Low wrote an article suggesting that we remove the trees to create more buzz and turn Orchard Road into a First World shopping area. I think he’s off his rocker.

Firstly, if we remove the trees so that we can be more like London or Tokyo or Paris, we lose our uniqueness. People will have even less reason to come to Singapore because they can get the same experience (and even better) in another city. So the extra crowds that he envisages will be thinned by those who have gone elsewhere for their First World City Shopping Belt experience.

Mr Low goes on to suggest that we can sit in air-conditioned sidewalk cafes and enjoy the “buzz” of the shopping street better if the trees were gone. But if the trees are gone then people wouldn’t be walking outside – the Singapore weather is simply too inclement for casual walks in your nice street clothes. So there would be nothing to see but cars and building facades. And that would certainly make the latte in the sidewalk café that much less enjoyable.

He also says that there’s no point in having world-class architects design buildings on Orchard Road if they can’t be seen for the trees. I think if they were such good architects they would find a way to make their buildings stand out despite the trees, or even because of the trees. Mr Low’s knee-jerk response is typical of rapacious industrialists in Third World countries – if it blocks my view, get rid of it. This is hardly First World, civilised, win-win thinking.

As for his point about why put up decorations if they can’t be seen from across the street, I think his question answers itself. If I can’t see it from across the street, then I will have to go nearer to look at it. And since I’m there outside the store already, I might as well go in and have a look. This way, the shops entice more customers to step inside. If I can see everything from far away, then I’ll just take my photographs and hop on the next MRT train to Changi Airport, thank you very much. The sense of discovery is actually heightened by the trees, and makes the shopping experience so much more special than that of any other shopping area in the world.

I can probably think of a lot more reasons why we should keep the trees, but you’ll have to buy me a drink for that. Meanwhile, I hope this has been enough to spark your interest in the issue and do something about it (like blog). I sincerely hope no civil servant or politician takes Mr Low seriously and adopts his suggestion. That would be the greatest mistake in our urban planning ever.


Mezzo said...

This guy wrote in to Ignatius about it - you can read his letter here. It's a good summary of arguments against a stupid article.

koth said...

Hi Boko,

I've been trying to reach you. Drop me a note through my profile.

Blueheeler - the dog that sniffs out fishy news said...

1st, I'm all for saving the trees.
But as I've been S'porean all my life, I know that our views do not matter. If STB thinks that by cutting down the trees we'll somehow get more toursit-$$$, then the trees will be gone. No debate!

Think about National Library at Stanford Road. All the protests were ignored. What more a few trees?

For the record, 'save our trees' (if my protest matters...)

wahj said...

hear hear. The argument to cut down the trees is ill-considered. First of all it stems from a simplistic view of problems and problem solving – to think that one act (cut down trees) can solve a complex problem (build a world class city) is naive. Secondly, it doesn't consider consquences and side effects – cutting down the trees will cause more problems than it solves, even assuming that it solves anything. Lastly, it doesn't make good sense, or good science. The urban heat sink effect is well documented: leaving the trees there (or planting more trees) will make our open areas more bearable.

Finally of course, I can't stand anybody whose first reaction is to destroy something as beautiful as a tree. You can tear down and rebuild shopping centres all you like, in the space of years: trees, once cut down, you have to wait decades for if you change your mind.

Hi Ho, Hi Ho, the Hiatus is Over

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